This past offseason, after the passing of one of the greatest players ever in Deacon Jones, the NFL decided that it would award the annual sack champion with the Deacon Jones Award and present it as part of the NFL Honors show the day before the Super Bowl.
The inaugural winner of that award is Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis, who captured his first sack title with 19.5 on the season. While that is a huge honor in itself, it shouldn't be the only award that Mathis brings home. He should be the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, too.
The Colts finished the regular season 11-5, winning the AFC South and sweeping the division in the process, going 6-0. The Colts notched huge wins over San Francisco (on the road), Seattle, Denver, and Kansas City (also on the road). And yet they only had one player named to the Pro Bowl - Robert Mathis.
The other outside linebacker position, manned by Erik Walden and Bjoern Werner, managed just 5.5 sacks combined on the season. In fact, after Mathis the player on the team who had the most sacks was inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman with 5.5. After him was defensive lineman Cory Redding with 4.5.
Entering the season I was very concerned with the Colts pass rush (or lack thereof) and was concerned as to whether Mathis would be able to handle being the only real option there. I was absolutely right about the Colts pass rush - it has been terrible as a whole outside of Mathis. But I was dead wrong about Mathis. He answered any question I may have had and he made the question itself look silly when looking back. Then, it was a fair question. Now, it's laughable.
At 32 years old, Mathis had by far his best season ever, and that's saying a lot. He notched the third highest tackle total of his career (and was only six away from the most), tied his career high for the most forced fumbles in a season with 8, and crushed his previous single-season high in sacks by 8.
And remember, Mathis has had a phenomenal career. He's the NFL's all-time leader in strip-sacks and is now among the top-twenty all-time in terms of sacks. He passed Dwight Freeney this year for the most sacks in franchise history. This year he notched his fifth double-digit sack season, and his eighth season with at least 9.5 sacks.
He always had Dwight Freeney there before. This year, he didn't, and as a result the Colts had never had to rely on him more. And he has never shone brighter than he did this season. Outside of Mathis, the defense would have completely fallen apart. The Colts wouldn't have been able to generate hardly any pressure, and that would have resulted in very poor secondary play as well, as the quarterback would have a while to throw.
Instead, Mathis has been as disruptive as any pass rusher I have ever seen, and he won the NFL's sack title and set the franchise record for most sacks in a season to show for it. His 19.5 sacks are incredibly impressive. But even more impressive is just how important he was to his team.
This year, 24 players recorded double-digit sack seasons. I compiled a list of all of them and the percentage of the team's sacks that the player was responsible for (players accounting for more than 30% of his team's sacks are in bold):
|Player||Team||Individual Sacks||Team Sacks||Team Sack %|
Including Mathis, there were six players who accounted for more than 30% of their team's sacks. The next closest to Mathis, however, was still 10.49% behind him. Robert Mathis accounted for 46.43% of the Colts sacks this year - an insane amount that goes to show just how key he was to this defense. A single player accounted for nearly half of his team's sacks. That's almost unheard of.
And for further measure, none of those 24 players recorded more forced fumbles than Mathis, and only one of those players came closer than within four of Mathis's total. Additionally, only 8 of the 24 players who notched at least 10 sacks this year recorded more tackles than Mathis, who had 59 on the year.
fact that may interest only me: robert mathis is just 2nd player in last 15 years to win sacks title at age 30+. other was strahan (2x).— Jim Trotter (@SI_JimTrotter) December 30, 2013
Mathis's peformance this might be my favorite by any Colt ever. Have to think hard about it, but it's pretty far up there.— Nate Dunlevy (@NateDunlevy) December 30, 2013
Robert Mathis is by far the Colts' MVP, and to me it's not really close. There was no one on the team more important to the Colts than Mathis was. Sure, you could make a case for quarterback Andrew Luck, but other than that, there's no one. I'd give Mathis the Colts MVP for 2013 any day.
He's already won the Deacon Jones Award, given to the NFL sack leader. But he should win more than that - he should win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award. Actually, to me, there's no doubt that he already is the NFL's defensive player of the year, regardless of whether the voters agree. The season that Robert Mathis had in 2013 is one that Colts fans will remember for a long, long time.